In 2011, a Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity brother accidentally accelerated and lost control of the U-Haul truck he was driving to his fraternity's tailgate area. He struck and killed a 30-year-old Yale graduate student, Nancy Barry, and injured Yale student Sarah Short and Harvard employee Elizabeth Dernbach.
According to the Yale Daily News, Short and Barry's estate have filed identical lawsuits “individually naming all the students who were members of the Yale chapter of the fraternity at the time of the crash, regardless of whether or not they were present at the tailgate.” Both are seeking sums in the millions.
Originally, Short and Barry filed suit against the national Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity, only to be told by Director of Risk Management Kathy Johnston that, legally, the local and national chapters had nothing to do with each other. The fraternity's insurance company also said it didn't cover actions by the local chapter.
This is all kind of dense, but here's the bottom line: These Yale kids paid dues to a national organization that figured out a way to abandon them. Short's attorney told the Yale Daily News that in 20 years of litigating he had never seen an arrangement where the individual members took the fall. “[The national fraternity and its insurance], to try to save money, are trying to distance themselves from the case,” Joel Faxon said. “[The local chapter] has been thrown under the bus … by the national fraternity, so the only remedy that our client has is to sue the local fraternity.”
(It's possible that the nationals are helping behind the scenes. 84 of the defendents are represented by the same attorney, likely arranged by the national Sigma Phi Epsilon organization.)
If this sets a precedent, it's certainly something anyone in a fraternity should be aware of.
[H/T: Business Insider]